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Authors: R D Ronald

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BOOK: The Elephant Tree
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Putty nodded and stood up, a little unevenly at first. ‘I’m getting a bit old for this staying up all night partying shit I think.’ He said, and steadied himself against the wall for a moment before following Gemma into the living room.

‘You in any hurry to get to sleep?’ Angela asked.

‘You’re joking, after all the speed and coke tonight, I may black out at some point, but I won’t be drifting off to sleep anytime soon.’

‘What about some fresh air then, you fancy taking a walk?’ she asked.

‘Sure, why not.’

‘We’ve got no more beer,’ she said looking down disappointedly at the empty bottles littered around them, ‘I’ll see what’s left in the kitchen.’ Angela stood up in a single fluid motion and stepping over assorted bodies along the hallway, made her way gracefully towards the kitchen.

‘Ok,’ Scott said, standing with less conviction than Angela, ‘I’ll meet you at the back door. It’ll be cold out, I’ll go and fetch some warm clothes.’

He pulled two thick hooded sweatshirts out of the wardrobe, a scarf, a woollen hat and two zip-up jackets. Outside Angela knelt down next to an uncorked bottle of red wine with her arms wrapped around herself, talking to Boris. The atmosphere of the party had mellowed a little now, groups of people still mingled, but the overall mood was more sedate.

‘Here,’ Scott said, offering up the selection of garments for her to choose from. Watching Angela pick through the clothes as if she were searching for a bargain in a thrift shop made him laugh.

‘What’s funny?’ she asked, grinning, as she pulled on the blue woollen hat and a grey sweatshirt with a faded ice hockey logo on the front.

‘Nothing,’ he said pulling on the other hooded top and fastening the jacket over it, ‘just you.’

Angela took a swallow from the wine and passed the bottle to Scott, as she pulled on the other jacket. ‘OK where we going then?’ she asked excitedly, her eyes glittering with reflected moonlight as she stood in the doorway.

‘Go on Boris, hyyaaahh,’ Scott said, making a shooing motion to the dog. ‘We just follow him.’

Taking his cue, the spaniel was already a hundred yards away by the time they began to follow. Angela linked his arm and leaned in close, pulling up the hood on her sweatshirt. It was a cold night but there was no frost. The full moon reflected patches of silver light, through the sparse cloud cover, which they used to traverse the uneven ground.

‘It’s really pretty out tonight,’ Angela said and looked up. ‘The moon seems even bigger than usual.’

‘It’s known as the Cold Moon, the last full moon of the year.’

‘You’re full of shit,’ Angela laughed, ‘anyone can say it’s called a cold moon when we’re in bloody December, what’s the next one then if you’re so smart?’

‘The next, after our new year is called the Wolf Moon,’ he said, faking a smug grin, and watched Angela trying to read his expression in the partial light to see if he was attempting to fool her.

She took a slow breath in and out of the cold night air. ‘Well I don’t care what they call it, I think it’s beautiful.’ Angela clutched his arm tighter. ‘You’re lucky to live out here, it’s really nice.’

Boris had circled back around and was exploring not too far ahead of them now. They reached the only part of the boundary fence that still remained, a small section with a stile to the South that they climbed over, navigating their way through the tufts of dead scrub grass and into the woods. Long slivers of moonlight fell between the naked branches; the close proximity of the surrounding trees made their being together seem more intimate, almost secretive.

‘How come you never asked me out on a date, Scott?’

Scott’s mind had become entwined in a fluid spiral of thoughts and feelings, which he swam back out from at the sound of her question. ‘That’s a bit out of the blue, isn’t it?’

‘I don’t think so. We get on really well and I sometimes catch looks from you that I’ve had from other guys at work, usually just before they ask me out, but you never have.’

‘I kind of made a promise.’

‘I knew it,’ she said, with an unfamiliar stern expression, ‘this is gonna be my dad’s doing, isn’t it?’

‘It’s understandable really, when you think about it.’

‘Great, so it is then.’

Scott wasn’t too concerned with breaking confidences right now. The alcohol and cocaine had made his whole body feel warm in sharp contrast to the cold night air. ‘He just wants more for you than to fall in love with a drug dealer. The uncertainty and danger of that kind of lifestyle, he doesn’t want you to end up with someone like me.’

‘Or him.’

‘Yeah I suppose, or him.’

As Scott stooped a little to pass under a branch from a nearby oak, Angela reached up, held his face between her hands and kissed him. It was slow and soft and for a few seconds the rest of the world seemed to melt away. She opened her mouth slightly and he felt her tongue run gently across his lips. Angela slowly withdrew. Scott opened his eyes and she looked deep into them, reading him, searching for his reaction. He felt naked and vulnerable under her gaze, but he didn’t care.

‘You taste like strawberries,’ he said once his senses began to unravel.

It took a second for what he’d said to register, but then she laughed. ‘That’ll be the wine you can taste,’ she said grinning, and held the bottle up for him to see before taking another drink. Boris had stopped a little way ahead and looked back at them expectantly. Scott motioned with his hand to keep going and the dog continued off on his circular patterns of exploration.

‘Well I certainly didn’t see it coming,’ Scott said with a laugh he hoped didn’t sound nervous. His mind was fuzzy from the cocktail of drugs and alcohol and struggled to comprehend what meaning, if any, it might hold.

‘Kind of an impulse thing, I think,’ she said.

A shaft of moonlight illuminated a row of sentinel silver birch in a phosphorescent glow, appearing almost ethereal in the relative surrounding gloom. Boris had stopped again, his silhouette a stark black juxtaposition against the background of the illuminated branches.

‘Now, that looks kind of trippy,’ Angela said, ‘have you been here before?’

‘Yeah it was a regular stop when uncle Bob would take me and Jack on walks when we were kids. It’s just become habit since then when I’m out walking the dog, he pretty much always makes his way here.’

‘Like a migration,’ Angela said with a laugh. ‘Or a pilgrimage.’

‘Yeah or just an old dog who’s stuck in his ways. Here check this out,’ Scott said and led her past the cover of the silver birch.

‘Bob first showed me and my brother this when we were kids,’ he said, pointing towards a strange looking tree ahead. It was a large oak. All of the branches had long since been cut off leaving only thick stumps protruding from the enormous trunk.

‘We used to stay over on weekend sleepovers, before we came to live here permanently after our parents’ death. Bob told us the tree must be special ‘cause no leaves or any other signs of life ever grew from it, yet year after year it showed no sign of degrading or rotting away. He’d point out other trees in the woods that had been struck by lightning or died from disease; over time the bark would drop away and the trunks would soften, the roots rot and usually end up being blown over in a storm. He reckoned since he’d first seen the tree at around the time we were born, the branches had already been removed, so it had been standing in its present condition for at least as long as we’d been breathing.’

‘It does look rather strange,’ Angela said, as she studied the old oak.

‘Well that would have been enough to single it out from the other trees in the woods, but its most redeeming feature, in Bob’s eyes, was this,’ Scott said, and pointed to bring Angela’s attention to particularly odd growth surrounding the formation of a branch roughly a third of the way up the trunk.

‘Oh wow, it looks just like an elephant,’ Angela said, studying the protrusion from the trunk. ‘But not a happy one.’

‘From there yeah, but when you move around here,’ Scott said, and slid an arm around Angela’s waist.

‘So your uncle came here and prayed or whatever at the shrine of the pissed off elephant?’ Angela asked, giggling.

‘Shh, just watch,’ he said, and led her slowly around to the other side of the tree.

The growth, when looked upon from the West, clearly gave the appearance of an elephant’s head. The contours of the face, an eye, the large ear and even its trunk that ended abruptly where the branch had been sawn off, were intricately defined in the old wood. When slowly moving from this vantage point around to the other side of the tree and looking from the East, the face would begin to change. The elephant’s features would appear to melt and run into one another before re-gathering form and appearing as human. This still creeped Scott out even now, but as a child it had scared him outright; yet despite this he still felt intrinsically drawn to the spot. Both dimensions of the face when looked upon could appear to convey great emotion to Scott, although depending on his mood, and maybe the lighting at the time, the emotions were subject to change. Illusions of childhood were often displaced with the reason of a rational adult mind, but standing in the same spot he would have been in when first introduced to the tree by his uncle all those years ago, Scott repeated the procedure with Angela, of first focusing on the elephant face before slowly walking around the circumference of the tree. Again he watched the face morph from that of elephant into man. To him the elephant face appeared calm, almost serene, but as it reshaped into human, it looked troubled or even afraid.

For Angela the way silvery light reflected down cast the eye socket and mouth in deep shadow, they appeared as vacant black chasms, the mouth twisted in a frozen expression like pain or anguish.

Scott nudged her and she moved around the tree. ‘Keep looking at it,’ he told her.

‘No fucking way’, Angela said, moving back to where she had first stood, to repeat the process. ‘Now it looks like a man’s face, laughing hysterically. Shit, that has to be the drugs.’

‘Uncle Bob always seemed to think there was some mystical significance to this tree, although he could be pretty weird sometimes,’ Scott confessed.

‘Weird can be a misinterpretation of an enlightened mind,’ Angela said, and grinned again. Scott couldn’t tell if she was serious or pulling his leg.

Scott stepped back from the oak and sat on a nearby fallen tree trunk. ‘I’m sure they haven’t dampened the effect at all, but no it’s pretty much always like this. Well not always, the expression, or what we kinda perceive to be the expression, seems to change each time you come back. That’s what I think my uncle used to find so alluring, he was into all the Buddhism stuff and elephants are a big deal to them, apparently.’

Angela seemed transfixed by the metamorphosis from elephant to man, and continued slowly side-stepping from left to right and then back again. ‘So what was so special about elephants?’

‘Strength, according to my uncle. Physical and mental strength. He would come here alone sometimes and just sit for hours. I don’t know if he hoped he’d absorb some of it himself, just by being here. I know he used to come when he had difficult decisions to make, though.’

Scott glanced at his watch but didn’t register what it said. The notion of time had become as absurd as the quietly glowing trees around them.

Chapter 4

A
ngela hadn’t expected to see anyone new when she’d arrived at her dad’s place that afternoon. The usual interchangeable faces of local up-and-coming thugs or the more recognisable characters she had come to know from growing up around the scene through childhood. When she’d noticed Scott sitting in the chair, the light fluttering she’d felt in her chest had taken her by surprise.

Angela knew she seemed a pretty cool character where men were concerned, but the confidence she put forth wasn’t born out of experience. Far from it. In fact the only serious relationship she’d ever had was with Anthony Baxter, a short and rather awkward boy back in high school. They had been a couple for over a year before they slept together, and stayed in the relationship for another year afterwards. Angela’s fingers moved unconsciously to the silver hoop in her right ear; a reminder as if she needed one of her only sexual partner. He had bought her it as a gift the day after they’d first had sex.

She had first become aware of Scott while out clubbing with her friend Stephanie around a year ago. Angela hadn’t known exactly what the attraction was to begin with. Sure, he was good looking, but she knew that she could have her pick from any number of good looking guys. It wasn’t the dangerous drug dealer image either. Having grown up surrounded by those types, she found it more of a bore than a turn on, but still she couldn’t deny that she was drawn to Scott.

Stephanie had picked up on her interest after a while and despite endless encouragement Angela still had refused to go up and introduce herself. Stephanie’s initial attempt at introductions were a little wide of the mark as she’d ended up going home with Scott’s friend Neil after buying some speed from them, leaving Angela to get a taxi home alone. That hadn’t lasted though, Neil never called her back and Steph gave up, having been given a couple of brush-offs after bumping into him again around the bars.

Maybe it was fear of rejection that had put Angela off from pursuing Scott. Anthony’s advances had captured her attentions ahead of a group of more popular boys back in school, and the handful of first dates she’d bothered to turn up for since then had always come about from her alcohol weakened defences being lowered enough that she’d eventually say yes to a come-on in a bar or club. Whatever trepidation she had previously felt though, she’d managed to cast aside when she saw Scott in her dad’s flat that afternoon. She’d masked her nervousness well and now was going out on a date with him, well for a drink or two which pretty much seemed like a date.

She arrived at Jam just after seven-thirty the next night. An uneasy restlessness had descended upon her during the afternoon and despite trying to engross herself in other activities it had refused to lift. Best to just get there early and have a drink to calm her nerves, she thought. Maybe a guy at the bar would hit on her while she waited. Turning away offers of a drink might bring back some sense of control and make her feel less uneasy and skittish.

BOOK: The Elephant Tree
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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